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Preview: It doesn't get any easier for Blue Jackets with Sharks circling

Columbus looking to salvage tough road trip, reclaim East's second wild card

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

GAME 66: BLUE JACKETS (32-28-5) AT SHARKS (35-21-9)

Location: SAP Center, 9 P.M., Sunday

TV: Fox Sports Ohio/Fox Sports Go (Jeff Rimer, Jody Shelley); Fox Sports West, Sportsnet 360

Radio: 97.1 FM & BlueJackets.com (Bob McElligott)

There's not much time for the Blue Jackets to reflect upon what went wrong in the first two games of their West Coast road trip to play the California-based teams this week.

After being swept in back-to-back games by the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, in a pair of intense physical matchups, the Blue Jackets have just 17 games left to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have the San Jose Sharks up next.

San Jose might be the Golden State's best team, sitting second in the Pacific Division with 79 points and holding a 6-3-1 record in its past 10 games. The Sharks are also looking for their third straight win and will pose another tall order for Columbus, which lost 5-2 against the Kings on Thursday at Staples Center and 4-2 against the Ducks on Friday night at Honda Center.

The Blue Jackets played well in the first period of each game, before issues in the second periods led to multiple goals allowed and eventually, stinging defeats.

"You get ready to play your next one, that's all you can do," Columbus coach John Tortorella said, following the loss in Anaheim. "You can't get down, you can't overthink it. We're not going to beat 'em up [as coaches]. We're going to keep on trying to grow."

Unlike last season, when the Blue Jackets stormed through the Eastern Conference for a franchise-record 108 points, this season has come with a lot more challenges.

They've fought inconsistent play from veterans and young players alike. They've stayed afloat through multiple injuries and continue to do so with two young defensemen still on injured reserve and center Alexander Wennberg missing the game Friday against the Ducks because of an upper-body injury.

They've also struggled on special teams, on and off, and haven't stemmed the tide of momentum when it begins to roll against them mid-game.

"I thought we had opportunities [Friday]," Tortorella said. "I thought we played a good game other than a couple sections of it, just a couple minutes, but we find ways to lose - and that's what we have to turn around. So, we're just going to stay with it and keep going about our business."

SERIES RECORD

2017-18 Season: (0-1-0). This is the finale of the two-game season series. The Sharks won the first game, 3-1, on Feb. 2 at Nationwide Arena.

All-time (W-L-T-O): 20-31-0-5 overall; 6-19-0-2 in San Jose

WHO'S HOT

Blue Jackets: Sonny Milano scored his 10th goal of the season in the loss to the Ducks on Friday, which was his second goal in three games since returning from a torn oblique muscle.

Sharks: Joe Pavelski scored two goals in the Sharks' 7-2 win against the Blackhawks on Thursday, which gave him seven points (three goals, four assists) in the past four games.

EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS

  • Wennberg is questionable. The Blue Jackets' second-line center came out for pregame warmup against the Ducks on Friday but didn't stay out the entire time and didn't play in the game. It's unclear when Wennberg sustained the injury against the Kings on Thursday, but he took a hard crosscheck from behind, delivered to the hip area, from defenseman Jake Muzzin with 4:17 left in the third period. The force drove him into the end boards and he left the ice in apparent discomfort. Columbus initially tried Brandon Dubinsky in Wennberg's center spot on the second line, but eventually shifted captain Nick Foligno from right wing back to center of that unit, moving Dubinsky into his usual role centering the top checking line.
  • The Blue Jackets have allowed critical shorthanded goals in each of their past two games against the Kings and Ducks. Jeff Carter's goal during a Columbus power play Thursday gave Los Angeles a 4-2 lead at 8:22 of the third period, and Andrew Cogliano broke a 1-1 tie at 11:17 of the second period Friday for the Ducks. Anaheim also pushed its lead to 3-1 shortly after the same Blue Jackets power play, when defenseman Josh Manson scored off a breakaway after being let out of the penalty box. Columbus has allowed five shorthanded goals, which is tied with seven other teams for sixth-most in the NHL this season. Last year, the Blue Jackets allowed just two shorthanded goals all season, which was tied for least in the league.
  • Defenseman Zach Werenski tied the Blue Jackets' all-time record for goals in one season by a defenseman with his tally late in the game Friday against Anaheim. It was Werenski's 12th goal of the season, which ties him with defense partner Seth Jones, who scored 12 goals last season, and former Jackets defenseman Bryan Berard, who set the standard with 12 in the 2005-06 season. Werenski, who's dealt with an upper-body injury much of the season, hadn't scored since Dec. 29 against the Ottawa Senators (25 games). His past two goals were scored at the tail end of games the Blue Jackets lost, which made them bittersweet accomplishments - especially the one Friday in Anaheim. "It's been awhile," Werenski said afterward. "I feel like I've been gripping my stick a little bit tighter of late, just because I know how long it's been. I'd have rather gotten a win than a goal."

EYES ON: THE SHARKS

  • San Jose has played more than a month without Joe Thorton, who's out of the lineup following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Jan. 25 to repair a torn medial-collateral ligament (MCL). Rather than sinking without their towering center, the Sharks have continued to play well without "Jumbo" Thornton. A big reason for that success is captain Joe Pavelski, who switched from his usual wing spot to play center after Thornton was injured Jan. 23 against the Winnipeg Jets. Pavelski has been a point-a-game player since Thornton went down, piling up 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 18 games since the injury. He had 10 goals, 24 assists and 34 points in 47 games prior to Thornton's injury.
  • Pavelski's line also got a big boost prior to the NHL Trade Deadline passing, as the Sharks acquired forward Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. Kane has played well in two games with San Jose following the trade. Kane has three points, all assists, and has added a jolt of speed to the Sharks' top line. Kane had 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) at the time of the trade. He's also handling a role on the top power-play unit for San Jose.
  • The Sharks have scored 37 goals in their past 11 games (7-3-1) and all were scored during even-strength play. Since Jan. 1, San Jose has scored 77 even-strength goals, which is second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins (81) during that time span. The Sharks have gone 11 straight games without scoring on a power play, going 0-for-24 with the man-advantage. San Jose is ranked seventh overall in power-play success rate (21.7 percent), but is just 2-for-30 in its past 14 games (6.7 percent), since going 2-for-3 against the Blue Jackets on Feb. 2 in Columbus.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS

Forwards

Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson

Sonny Milano - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Thomas Vanek- Brandon Dubinsky - Boone Jenner

Matt Calvert - Mark Letestu - Lukas Sedlak

Defensemen

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - Ryan Murray

Ian Cole - David Savard

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

Others: Scott Harrington, Taylor Chorney, Alexander Wennberg (upper body), Markus Hannikainen, Josh Anderson (knee)

Injured reserve: Dean Kukan (upper body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body)

SHARKS

Forwards

Evander Kane - Joe Pavelski - Joonas Donskoi

Tomas Hertl - Logan Couture - Mikkel Boedker

Timo Meier - Chris Tierney - Kevin Labanc

Barclay Goodrow - Eric Fehr - Melker Karlsson

Defensemen 

Joakim Ryan - Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon - Dylan Demelo

Goaltenders

Marin Jones

Aaron Dell

Others: Paul Martin, Marcus Sorensen, Jannik Hansen, Tim Heed

Injured Reserve: Joe Thornton (knee), Joel Ward (shoulder)

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